[FOUNTAIN]R.I.P. BeetleThe Volkswagen “Beetle” was a product made by an encounter between a genius and a devil.
In May 1934, Adolf Hitler met with Ferdinand Porsche, a genius in car design, and asked him to design a people’s car. (Mr. Porsche designed the world’s best sports cars after World War II.)
Hitler demanded an inexpensive, five-passenger car with a maximum speed of over 100 kilometers per hour and fuel economy of at least 10 kilometers per liter of gasoline.
The unique-design car first went into production in May 1938 at a Volkswagen factory. Hitler named the car “Kadef,” but Germans called it Kaeffer, or “beetle” in English. It had a 985-cubic-centimeter (60 cubic inches) air-cooled engine and was able to travel 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) on one liter of fuel. The car cost 900 marks, or about $360 at the time.
But for the Beetle to become a “people’s car,” the devil had to die. Volkswagen had to produce military vehicles, and fewer than 1,000 Beetles for consumer use were produced by 1945, when World War II ended. After the war, the Beetle became popular and developed into a symbol of the German economic miracle. In 1950, it entered the American market. By 1960, 4 million Beetles had been sold in the United States alone. The Beetle ad that Volkswagen made in 1960 in the United States is considered to be the best ad copy in the 100-year history of advertising.
“Think Small,” was the slogan, and it shook American consumers who had always thought that bigger was better. To date, about 21.5 million Beetles have been sold around the globe. Until the Golf, another hit product by Volkswagen, broke the record last year, the Beetle had been the widest-selling car in the world. By comparison, Hyundai has sold only 2.5 million Sonatas, Korea’s best-selling car, since its introduction in 1985.
The production of the Beetle has now ended completely. Production in Europe was stopped in 1978, and the last production line, in Puebla, Mexico, ceased operations Thursday.
Volkswagen started producing the New Beetle in 1999, a modernized Beetle with a more powerful engine. But the company could not reproduce the glorious days of the old Beetle.
The period when the Beetle, a German economic symbol, is going off the stage is, by coincidence, also a time when the German economy is seriously ill.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.